Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
“I don’t demand much. I just want everything.” These are the words of superstar Ingrid Bergman, whose ambitious and illustrious career in film and theater is presented in this exceptionally resourceful documentary which places Bergman’s written and spoken words in the center of a film about her life. Narrated by Swedish up-and-comer, Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Bergman’s biography is mostly culled from a voice over reading of her actual diaries and letters. Marvelous 16mm home video footage complements the authentic documentary, bringing not only Bergman’s thoughts and ideas but her vision to life on screen.
A very amusing though shy person, Ingrid Bergman always wanted to be someone else, and she found acting as a measure of doing this. Her joy for life, adventurous spirit, and willingness to fight for what is right is captured well throughout the film. Björkman does a fine job conveying that Bergman’s shyness was in fact transformed by the camera: that she became more confident, that she became herself. He aptly connects her warmth in front of the camera to her tender memories with her father, who used to photograph and video record her in her youth, instilling in Ingrid a love for the camera—both in front of and behind it.
Most interesting in the film are Bergman’s thoughts about cinema itself. She speaks regularly about the function of cinema and its role in her life. Always carrying around a camera, the film is brimming with stunning home video which is matched well with a classical orchestral score. She quite easily could have had a great career as a director if not an actor. Insightful remarks about the directors she worked with are also presented. While Hitchcock taught her levity and Renoir taught her humour, it was Ingmar Bergman who taught her how to think. She notes in her diary how Ingmar taught her to channel the character’s psychological state, telling her that her character in Autumn Sonata is not in the room watching her daughter play the piano, but she is in a field playing with her daughter as a young girl. To have these thoughts is to embody them.
Generating a remarkably intimate portrayal of her life, the use of her own words and her own video is a stunning accomplishment, allowing the documentary to find grounding in a more poetic documentary mode than usually found of biographies. In this regard, it is similar to the recent documentary on Amy Winehouse, entitled Amy and directed by Asif Kapadia. What unfortunately sets back this method of filmmaking, however, are the present day cinema verite interviews found scattered throughout the film and appearing more frequently towards the ending. While the views of such important figures as Isabella Rossellini and Liv Ullman are appreciable, this method of filmmaking cinematically contradicts the much more superior mode of documentary in which Bergman’s words and images poetically intertwine with music and nostalgia.
Generating a remarkably intimate portrayal of her life, the use of her own words and her own video is a stunning accomplishment, allowing the documentary to find grounding in a more poetic documentary mode than usually found of biographies.